In light of new evidence showing that travel restrictions failed to prevent the spread of Covid–19 and would be ineffective in the face of future variants of concern, Airports Council International (ACI EUROPE) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) call for all remaining Covid restrictions applying to intra-EU and Schengen area travel to be dropped, including all testing requirements, the need to present proof of vaccination or complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) and dropping mask-wearing for travel within or between states where it is no longer required in other indoor environments.
Europe’s population immunity is strong and Covid-19 is essentially now an endemic disease.Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe
In a joint letter to the Ministers of Transport and Health of EU member states, ACI EUROPE and IATA point out that Covid-19, especially the Omicron variant, is now pervasive throughout all of Europe, and population immunity is at such levels that the risk of hospitalisation or death has dramatically reduced, especially for vaccinated people. States are adopting surveillance strategies to ensure public health in the same way as they do for other coronaviruses and infectious diseases.
“March 11 marks exactly two years since the WHO announced Covid-19 was a global pandemic. In that time, we have seen increasing evidence that border restrictions are ineffective. The latest research from OXERA and Edge Health confirms that by the time a variant of concern is identified and restrictions are implemented, cross-border transmission will already have happened. Europe’s population immunity is strong and Covid-19 is essentially now an endemic disease. The time has come to focus their Covid efforts on surveillance and remove remaining intra-EU restrictions. This will free people to travel, and support jobs returning to the European air transport and travel sectors,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe.
Since many European states have lifted domestic Covid restrictions, such as contact tracing, the need to provide health credentials to enter social events or the requirement to wear masks in public spaces, it is “only logical to remove similar restrictions from air transport”.
[freedom to travel] will be a much-needed boost for the whole travel and tourism sectors which has been forced to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs during the pandemic.Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE
To support their demands, IATA and ACI EUROPE cite new research by OXERA and Edge Health which shows that even if a new variant is discovered and travel restrictions introduced immediately, this only delays the peak of infections by a maximum of only four days. They say that, by the time that a new variant emerges, is identified and restrictions are put in place, the variant is likely already circulating in communities around the world. In a scenario where restrictions are delayed by a week from identification, the peak in infections is only delayed by a maximum of two days. Thus, they consider these delays negligible health benefits, outweighed by the significant social and economic damage caused by the negative impact on air travel.
“The independent research and modelling published today shows that governments can lift restrictions with confidence – both for today and for any future variants of concern. Travel restrictions have proven to be a blunt instrument with little to no impact on virus transmission. Removing all Covid-19 restrictions will finally fully restore the freedom to travel. That will be a much-needed boost for the whole travel and tourism sectors which has been forced to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs during the pandemic,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE.
Considering the new research and the national ease of restrictions, the letter asks the EU to:
- remove all health-related travel and border restrictions ahead of the summer season, at least on intra- EEA flights, specifically testing, contact tracing and vaccine certificates;
- align the health restrictions applicable to aviation to those applied nationally, particularly with reference to mask mandates;
- allow those vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine to travel into the EEA from third countries with the same conditions as those passengers vaccinated with an EMA-approved vaccine.
Lastly, the two organisations reiterate the vital role played by the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) in giving states the confidence to reopen borders and restart travel: “We would like to use this opportunity to applaud the EU and Member States for the EU DCC development and implementation. We strongly support the value of the EU DCC which will remain crucial, especially for European citizens travelling abroad as well as for third countries. Likewise, the EU DCC will be useful for the containment of eventual variants of concern and enhance industry resilience against future health outbreaks.”